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What is a Penrose Drain?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A Penrose drain, named for Dr. Charles Bingham Penrose, is a surgical drain which is left in place after a procedure to allow the site of the surgery to drain. Promoting drainage of blood, lymph, and other fluids helps reduce the risk of infection and keeps the patient more comfortable. Drains are often used for major surgeries and the patient may wear them home from the hospital and care for them at home during surgical recovery. When drains will be implanted, the patient is usually given some oral information and a fact sheet before the surgery to get familiar with the after care which will be required.

The Penrose drain consists of a flexible rubber tube which is left inside the site of the surgery. Typically a small tab or safety pin is left in place at the end of the drain on the outside so that it cannot slip back into the wound and become lost. The drain acts like a straw to pull fluids out of the wound and release them outside the body. As healing progresses, the drain may be slowly pulled out and clipped to promote healing in the deepest areas of the wound.

The area around the drain can get messy, as one might imagine given the purpose of the drain. There are several different ways to manage a Penrose drain. Some care providers fit a bladder or bag over the end to collect the wound exudate released by the drain. One useful feature of using a bag is that it allows people to track the amount of fluid produced by the wound every day. This information can be logged in the patient's chart.

A Penrose drain can also be surrounded by heavy bandages which absorb the leaking fluid. These bandages need to be changed regularly to prevent additional leakage and keep the skin as clean and dry as possible. Typically the condition of the bandages is noted on the patient's chart to give the patient's care team an idea of how well the wound is healing.

Patients who care for their drains at home are given special soaps to use for cleaning, along with adequate bandages. They are also usually asked to keep a log of their drain care. If signs of infection or other problems appear, a doctor can conduct an examination to determine the next best step.

Eventually, the Penrose drain can be removed. Drain removal usually occurs when it is clear that the wound no longer needs drainage, and can be done in a clinic or hospital.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon327550 — On Mar 28, 2013

I had three following the removal of sarcomas in thigh and a flap that was taken from Lattissimus area on my back. It's worked a treat and is powerfully powering my thigh

after several muscles were removed. The drains aren't a problem, believe me. They are comfortable and great at removing Seroma that you don't need inside you.

By Planch — On Oct 14, 2010

Frankly the whole idea of getting a Penrose drain kind of scares me. I know it's important and that if I were in such a situation, I would much rather have the drain than not, but the whole idea of having something sticking out of my body for an extended period of time really makes me cringe.

And besides, those things aren't small -- they even have quarter inch Penrose drains! I think I would feel like a smoothie or something, with a tube sticking out of me all the time.

Again, I know if I was in a situation where I needed one I wouldn't hesitate, but I kind of hope I never need one, if you know what I'm saying.

By closerfan12 — On Oct 14, 2010

Would a Penrose drain be the same kind of thing that they use for a mastectomy drain?

A friend of mine's mom is going in for a mastectomy, and we've been looking up information about it, but all I can seem to find is information about the insertion of a chest drain for a thoracotomy, rather than for a mastectomy.

Has anybody had this done, or knows enough to where you could tell us how this part of the surgery will work?

By pleats — On Oct 14, 2010

My father-in-law had to have a hemovac drain in his abdomen after they drained a hemothorax (he was in a car accident, but he's fine now), and I have to say, that's one of the oddest things.

It's weird, because you feel (or at least I felt) really odd around him at first, and I was always scared that I was going to knock his drain out or push it in some way. I know that the chances of that are very low, but it's just one of those irrational fears.

However, once we got used to it, and got used to helping him take care of it, it was just a normal thing. Although I do have to say, cleaning the area around a drain is not the most pleasant thing in the world.

I know it would be a lot worse if it didn't get cleaned though!

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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